Today, October 2, 2015, marks the SECOND YEAR ANNIVERSARY of the bidding for the Philippine Navy (PhN)’s two brand new Frigates. Yessir, the whole project is now TWO YEARS OLD and can be called a “Saga” already, with still no end in sight. The project is still a “Go”, with PNoy finally signing off the approval for the release of their budget last September 8, 2015.
However, no definite date has been officially announced to the public on WHEN the next stages of the bidding will be made, although a representative of one of the bidders, India’s Garden Reach Shipbuilders and Engineers (GRSE) said in an interview that the Financial Bids are going to be opened “soon”, but that the announcement of the winner will likely be done only by the end of the year probably after the Post-Bidding checks have been completed.
So instead of just ranting about the delay like what I did last year to mark the first year anniversary of the Frigate bidding, I decided to just come up with something a little less negative, like a “what could have been”.
While surfing the internet, and reading and drooling over the Indonesian Navy’s Sigma-class Corvettes one time, it suddenly just occurred to me that the Sigma 10514 would’ve actually fit almost exactly into the PhN’s technical requirements for its new Frigate Acquisition program, hence I have decided to explore this in depth a little bit more with this blog. I will try to take a look at how it fits, and ultimately the possible issues as to why these ships did not end up as among the candidates for the bidding.
’The Sigma Class’
The Sigma class is a series of ships sharing the same general hull design and layout ranging in size from 700 to 2,500 tons in weight, and with different roles ranging from Fast Attack Crafts (FACs) to Frigates. “Sigma” stands for “Ship Integrated Geometrical Modularity Approach”, which shows you how desperate the manufacturer was to use “Sigma” as acronym for this line of ships. It is made by the Dutch company “Damen Schelde Naval Shipbuilding”, and the first ship entered naval service in 2004.
Only seven ships have been commissioned into naval service so far, with the Indonesian Navy having four and the Moroccan Navy having three. The series has a unique numbering system wherein the LENGTH and BREADTH (or width) of the ship is used as its model number. Indonesia has four Sigma 9113 (meaning the ships are 91 m long and 13 m wide) while Morocco has two Sigma 9813 and one Sigma 10513. The model we are particularly interested in would be the Sigma 10514, the heaviest and most suited to our requirements.
’Fits the Requirements’
The first thing that gave me the idea that these ships would fit into our requirements was looking at the pictures of their ARMAMENTS. Both the Sigma 9813 and Sigma 10513 carry four Anti-Ship Missiles (AShMs) each in two launchers, which is the same as the PhN requirements. The Sigma 9813 also carries two Mistral Tetral Surface to Air Missile (SAM) launchers, but the PhN requirement is only for one quadruple launcher, hence the 9813 exceeds the specs comfortably. The bigger Sigma 10514 even has provisions for a twelve-cell Vertical Launch System (VLS).
In terms of performance, the specs require a range of at least 8,325 km at 15 knots and a maximum speed of at least 25 knots, and the Sigma 10514 likely meets this requirement having a range of 9,250 km at 14 knots and a maximum speed of 28 knots.
Among the series, though, only the biggest ship, the Sigma 10514 can carry a 10-ton helicopter in an enclosed hangar as per the specs, with the other ships only being able to carry lighter helicopters. Each ship also carries two Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats (RHIBs), meeting the required two RHIB requirement.
All seven ships in service right now only seems to have manually aimed 20 mm guns as Secondary Gun Armament, but the requirement is for a stabilized gun that can be remotely controlled by the Fire Control System (FCS). But I don’t think this will be an issue as guns like the Mk 38 Mod 2 (the same ones being used on our PF-16 BRP Ramon Alcaraz) could probably be easily installed on the ship. In fact, most brochures show these Sigma ships as armed with the bigger, heavier, more sophisticated and more expensive Millenium Gun System (MGS).
Among the other MAJOR Frigate requirements which the Sigma 10514 can easily meet are as follows:
– Three Torpedo Launchers on each side minimum (currently using B515 Triple Torpedo Launchers on each side);
– Three decoy launchers on each side minimum (currently using Terma SKWS Decoy System with at least six launchers per side);
– A Sonar system (currently using a Thales Kingclip UMS 4132 Hull Mounted Sonar)
– Electro Optical (EO) Targeting system (currently has two, the Thales Target Designation Sights (TDS) and Thales LIROD Mk2 Radar/EO Fire Control System)
– Electronic Warfare System (currently has two, the Thales Vigile 100 and Thales Scorpion 2)
There are two major roadblocks though for the Sigma 10514 with regards to our requirements. First is its ENDURANCE, where the requirement is for 30 days but the ship can only stay out for a maximum of 20 days. This seems like a major issue since it means the manufacturer will have to increase the storage capacity for some of the CONSUMABLES (i.e. Food, Oil, etc.) of the ship by 50%, and doing that means more weight and space will have to be allocated for these items. Because of the additional 50% longer period of stay at sea, they will also have to improve the HABITABILITY (i.e., Accommodations, Recreation, etc.) of the ship so the crew will be more comfortable staying longer away from port.
Second would probably be the PRICE. When Indonesia signed the contract for its first Sigma 10514, it was worth USD 220 million reportedly for the hull only, with no armaments. Now compare this to the USD 167 million budget we have for the ship only with no weapons, and you can see the big difference in price. Damen could have cut some corners here and there to reduce the cost of the ship, like for example installing the cheaper Mistral Tetral and 2D Air/Surface Search Radar which will meet the minimum requirements instead of the twelve-cell VLS for the SAMs and the 3D Radar.
However, whatever savings they might have had would’ve been lost due to extending the ship’s ability to stay afloat by an additional ten days, and therein might have been the issue: Damen could have decided that there was just no way for them to meet the specifications at the current budget that we have. Damen was initially interested in joining the bidding when it bought the bid documents, but ultimately they decided NOT to join the bidding itself.
In summary, these Sigma class of ships are some of the newest and most modern ships in the world right now, and they almost fit our Navy’s requirements except for the Price and Endurance, but ultimately the manufacturer didn’t think they can build the ships at the price that they want. But we shouldn’t worry too much as a lot of other ship manufacturers have come forward to join our bidding, indicating that they CAN provide a ship with the capability we are looking for at the price that we are willing to pay for them.
I’m just not sure if the ship we will get will be as aesthetically pleasing as these Sigmas, but as long as they perform well as we ask them to, then it should be okay. In fact that may be the most important point in the end. Here’s hoping that the very first brand new Frigate procurement in the entire history of the Republic of the Philippines will finally push thru …
^ Acquisition of much-needed military equipment given green light –DND,
^ Manila to soon decide if it will buy India-built warships,
^ New Frigate Acquisition Bidding Delay – November 2013,
^ Philippine Navy Frigate Acquisition Project Technical Requirements,
^ Sigma 10514 PKR Frigate – Indonesian Navy,
^ Indonesia signs contract for US$220m destroyer escort,
^ DND to spend P15 B for two ships, P2.5 B for ammunition,
^ 4 firms qualify for P18-B Navy frigate bidding,